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If there is a legitimate criticism of the 1911 as a carry gun, it is size and weight. But the 1911s are also available in smaller size configurations known as Commander, Defender and Officer’s models.

Do not let anyone convince you the 1911 is dated. It is simply from another era in which handguns were designed to save your life and were not based on liability concerns.

The pistol is designed to be as fast as a good boxer, with a well-timed and devastating blow foremost. The Colt Commander is the result of a desire for a lighter and handier 1911.

While the story goes the Commander was designed to offer the military a downsized pistol, there were prototypes of a short .45 kicking around Hartford before World War II.

The use of aircraft-grade aluminum for the frame allowed a very light and handy concealment piece. The Commander retains the full-size grip of the Government Model.

This allows for comfortable firing and a good sharp draw. Size has much to do with confidence and control. Although it is appreciably lighter than the Government Model, the Commander is a controllable handgun — with practice.

1911 in Leather Holster with Winchester Ammo
Winchester +P loads and a Galco Summer Comfort make for excellent kit.

Other Variations on the 1911

With the Series 70 production run, the Combat Commander Colt was introduced. This is a steel-frame Commander. The Combat Commander is now known as simply the Commander, while the aluminum-frame Commander is the LW Commander.

The steel frame Commander offers excellent balance. The problem with reducing the length of the pistol, as far as reliability, was higher slide velocity, which was addressed by spring technology.

But then, we also had a shorter spring that had to exert more pressure. The shortened slide length reduces the total reciprocating mass, but also alters the way the magazine presents the round to the breech face.

In the end, it was a wonder the Commander was so reliable. It’s a great pistol.

The Officer’s Model is an even shorter 1911, with a 3.5-inch barrel and a grip shortened enough to cut magazine capacity by one round. An even shorter 1911— the Colt Defender — features a three-inch barrel.

The Officer’s Model demanded considerable revision of the design, but the three-inch pistols required even more so. In order to accommodate the sharper barrel tilt in a short-slide pistol, the barrel no longer used a barrel bushing.

The Commander used a standard bushing, although it was shortened.

Ruger Officer's Model 1911
Ruger’s 9mm Officer’s Model features a nice looking step in the slide.

The Defender features a belled barrel that contacts the slide directly. One of the standard 1911 locking lugs was removed in order to allow the barrel to recoil proportionately more to the rear of the pistol.

These design changes were essential in order to produce a functioning short-slide handgun. The three-inch idiom has proven very popular.

The Colt Officer’s Model is now out of production and seems unlikely to return. These three idioms — the Government Model, the Commander and the Officer’s Model — were once the defining descriptor of 1911 frame and slide sizes.

Today Government Model, Commander and Defender are more apt descriptions of the increasingly popular compact and ultra-compact descriptions.

However, Kimber has a near Officer’s Model. Ruger has introduced a short Officer’s-style 1911. These handguns are more likely to be 9mm Luger than .45 ACP these days.

Another idiom, perhaps the rarest, is the CCO or Commanding Officer’s Model. Guncrafter Industries offers a version in their “Gun With No Name” series.

The SIG C3 is an excellent example of the CCO series. With a short Officer’s Model grip and a Commander-length slide, the CCO has much to recommend.

Three 1911 pistols
Top to bottom: a Nighthawk Government Model, Devil Dog Commander and Guncrafter CCO-type 1911.

The Four-Inch Officer’s Model

A new and very popular handgun is the four-inch barrel 1911. Some of the best of the modern 1911s are four-inch guns. These include the Springfield Champion and Springfield Lightweight Officer’s Model.

The four-inch barrel 1911s are more in line in size and weight with the popular service pistols from other makers such as the SIG P226 or GLOCK Model 23.

They are superior service pistols and take a lot of drag off of the uniform belt. They are also very good concealed carry pistols. These pistols retain the full-size Government Model/Commander grip frame.

Springfield Lightweight Champion 1911
The Springfield Champion Lightweight Operator isn’t a true Commander, but a four-inch barrel 1911.

They are available in both aluminum-frame and steel-frame versions in weights ranging from about 26 to 33 ounces. These pistols feature the belled-barrel type lockup as they are too short to utilize a barrel bushing properly.

In my experience, these are very reliable handguns. They clear leather quickly, get on target quickly, and offer excellent hit potential.

They also rate high on the smile test, with most raters reacting favorably to the handling and accuracy potential of these handguns.

A LW frame 1911 is not for non-dedicated personnel. The pistol demands attention to detail and proper technique to master.

I find the lightweight four-inch barrel 1911 easier to control than a polymer-frame .40-caliber pistol, but there is time and effort in the equation.

The difference is that you will be able to reach a high level of competence with the 1911 that may elude shooters using the polymer-frame pistols.

The four-inch pistol certainly falls into the ‘if I could have only one pistol’ category. It is that versatile. At this point, you may reasonably ask for a recommendation on which 1911 is best for you.

My recommendation is always to begin with a steel-frame five-inch barrel Government Model. I might add that it is best to purchase the best quality handgun you can afford for a good return on performance and future trade-in.

If you are beginning with a concealment pistol, then the steel-frame Commander is an excellent first choice. I simply do not recommend jumping into a lightweight-frame 1911 without considerable experience with the Government Model.

A good four-inch barrel steel-frame pistol may be concealed, and with proper selection of a good holster such as the inside the waistband holster illustrated from Galco, you will have a comfortable platform for carrying the pistol.

There is more weight, but as you begin your shooting career you will appreciate it. Moving to lightweight three-inch barrel pistols such as the Colt Defender is a gradual process.

Shooting Officer's Model 1911
Handling with a quality Officer’s Model is excellent, leading to real speed and accuracy for those that practice.

The short sight radius of the Defender and the Kimber compact pistols may challenge marksmanship. A slight misalignment of the front sight is less noticeable when the sight radius is shorter than average.

I recommend that any compact defensive handgun have good sights. Superior sights are an aid in hit probability, perhaps more important in the case of the compacts than with the full-size handguns.

Fit, feel and a long sight radius may be compromised in the compact pistols, but, just the same, these are first-class defensive handguns.

Despite their short grips and short sight radius, the position of their controls is all 1911, and that means very ergonomic. Increased recoil is far from startling if you have begun your shooting career on the Government Model.

These handguns are a technical accomplishment well worth your praise and attention.

As a blanket recommendation for a shooter wishing to be all they can be with the 1911 and concealed carry, the steel-framed Officer’s Model is perhaps the best concealed carry 1911.

If they are chambered in 9mm, you may fire all of the +P or +P+ loads you wish. My Ruger Officers Model has fired thousands of rounds, including several hundred Winchester 127-grain SXT +P+, with excellent results.

There are several 1911 frame sizes, but these days I am most likely to carry the Officer’s Model, especially when concealment is at a premium.

What is your favorite model of 1911? Have you tried an Officer’s Model? Let us know in the comments section below!



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